/** reg.easttimor: 1987.0 **/

** Topic: The Nation: Still not too late to send in peacekeepers **
** Written 6:40 PM Aug 24, 1999 by ausasia@ozemail.com.au in cdp:reg.easttimor **
From: sonny inbaraj <ausasia@ozemail.com.au>
Subject: The Nation: Still not too late to send in peacekeepers

Editorial & Opinion The Nation, Wed Aug 25, 1999

EDITORIAL: Still not too late to send in peace-keepers

It is clear that with less than a week to go in the historic referendum the United Nations and the global community have utterly failed the people of East Timor.

The ballot has already been postponed twice because of concerns over security and voter intimidation by pro-Jakarta militias. This time, however, the UN is adamant that the Aug 30 referendum will go ahead despite mounting violence, even as the campaigning moves into the final few days.

On Monday about 450,000 East Timorese voters will choose between accepting or rejecting autonomy under Indonesia. A ''No'' vote will ultimately lead to independence for this half-island, which Indonesia invaded in 1975. However, it is almost certain that the vote will be carried out in most parts of the troubled territory in an atmosphere of fear and intimidation.

The UN has been told time and again that the Indonesians cannot be trusted to ensure security in the run-up to the vote. The few UN police advisors who are there are so helpless in containing the violence that they cannot even protect UN personnel, let alone the East Timorese.

UN offices and vehicles have been shot at or stoned by angry pro-Jakarta mobs. In the latest incident, on Saturday, UN district electoral officers came under militia attack at their home in the town of Ainaro. No one was hurt, but the staff had to retreat to the police station for safety. Death threats have also been issued against several UN translators.

But most worrying are the growing attacks against East Timorese who back independence. Many have sought refuge in churches; others are too scared to campaign openly against autonomy. The pro-Jakarta militias' game plan is clear, to stop independence supporters from turning out in force for the vote. That Jakarta troops are the ''black hand'' in this plan is beyond doubt. Not only are they unwilling to stop the violence, many plain-clothes soldiers have been spotted taking part in pro-autonomy rallies.

It is the post-referendum period that the UN, and the world, must worry about most. While the referendum may be unfair and unfree, it is a foregone conclusion that the result will be an emphatic rejection of the autonomy offer. Pro-Jakarta forces have vowed that there will be war in the event of such a verdict. Moreover a leaked government document revealed that the Indonesian military could launch a scorch-earth policy, burning, looting and destroying anything of value in East Timor as they withdraw.

In the light of this, a group of three visiting US senators issued a plea last Saturday for the immediate dispatch of armed UN peace-keepers. Indonesia will no doubt vehemently oppose such an armed UN presence, but it has only itself to blame. The agreement it signed with Portugal and the United Nations in May stipulates that responsibility for the security in the run-up to, during and immediately after the ballot rests with the government. The mounting violence goes to prove that Jakarta is unable to live up to the agreements.

It may be too late to send armed peace-keepers before the Monday vote given the infamous inertia of the UN bureaucracy. Deploying thousands of troops from neighbouring countries could take weeks, and yes, the UN does not normally deploy peace-keepers without the green light from Washington, which has been unusually quiet on the subject. It is surprising that a United States that is so missile-happy in Yugoslavia should be so slow in responding to the growing mayhem in East Timor.

Nevertheless better late than never. Just about everyone is warning that East Timor is a bloodbath waiting to happen. We must heed that warning. In Rwanda the world sat on its hands despite numerous warnings of possible bloodletting. We cannot and must not let it happen again, this time to East Timor.

The Nation

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